Being a Woman
I would like to clarify that I do not have any leanings to any political party be it the Right, the Left or the Centre. I’m just an Indian citizen who has believed in the strength of our country to remain unified against all threats; battered maybe and bruised definitely, but my India has always stood with head held high, reflecting the dreams and beliefs of millions of us Indians. So when I see a subtle yet persistent effort to undermine that Unity, I feel quite anguished and at the same time threatened.
It’s definitely a sign of impending darkness when thinkers, writers, poets, artists and film makers are targeted. They’re the people who can call attention both on the national and international arenas to troubling issues affecting our society. So when efforts to discredit them and mute their voices are gaining strength, it does not bode well for our country. The awards might have been bestowed by a particular party in power at that time, but once it is given, then it becomes a symbol of recognition by the State. So the action of returning the awards should be seen as a form of protest against the policies of the State.
There’s a subtle yet spreading attempt to portray the movement of returning awards as an issue of ‘them’ against ‘us’- intellectuals and thinkers against the common man. We seem to be forgetting that they too are a part of this society. So when they express concern over a particular issue, in this case the growing intolerance in the country towards any thought process which goes against that of the establishment, we owe them at least a patient hearing, instead of heaping ridicule on them.
The question we should be asking ourselves is not whether the awardees should return the awards or not, but what has prompted them to do so. Unfortunately, the focus has shifted from the reason for their protest to the form of protest they have chosen. As a thriving democracy, we have always been open to healthy forms of dissent. We, who wait patiently by the road side for hours so that processions and marches of political parties can pass by, are not willing to give a patient hearing to the thinkers of our country who are engaging in one of the most peaceful forms of protest that I’ve witnessed.
It is true that they do not become better citizens of the country or even better human beings merely by being recipients of the highest honours bestowed in their particular fields. But they are undoubtedly people whose voices reach further. We have all appreciated their works at one time or another. I do not have any awards to return, but that doesn’t mean that I blindly criticize the people doing so. My contribution can be to pay attention to what they are saying, form an informed opinion, and not get carried away by a misplaced sense of indignation.
It’s alarming that thinkers and thought leaders are being systematically discredited. History has shown us that a common factor of all autocracies has been the targeted annihilation of intellectuals, a case in point being the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. On a trip to that beautiful country, our guide told us stories of how people wearing spectacles were especially chosen for extermination since they were thought to be intellectuals, who were considered the worst enemies of the State.
A couple of days back I was discussing with my mother about the beautiful diversity that is so unique to India. We have so many differences and yet we are so proud to be a part of this amazing country. We don’t even understand each other’s languages, but the language of love, respect and tolerance has bonded us together against the worst odds. The only factor that cuts across all our differences, other than our national identity, is that of religion. While our national identity unifies us, religion will only tear apart the fabric of harmony that we have so painstakingly created over the years.
My appeal is to consider ourselves as Indians first, and then as members of a particular religion or community. Let’s be aware of what is happening around us and let’s not give in to divisive forces. If today, a particular form of dissent is being ridiculed, tomorrow it will be our freedom of expressing dissent that will be extinguished.
I strongly believe in the power of the individual. If each one of us loves and respects our fellow human beings and also teach our children the language of tolerance and love, we can definitely make India a better and safer place for our future generations.